Category Archives: Self Knowledge

* Personality Versus Character in Leadership

A recent, and much discussed event in the news has started me thinking about the difference between personality and character.   There are perhaps some who have spent little time considering if there even is a difference between them.  Even the Thesaurus on my laptop suggests the word ‘character’ as an acceptable substitute for the word ‘personality’.  But to me, they are quite different.  And, especially if you are a leader, understanding the distinction between them is critically important.

With my strictly layperson’s eye, I see that distinction as this:

Personality refers to our basic nature.  For instance, some of us are extraverted and some introverted.  Some of us are even-tempered, some hotheaded, and so on.  In short, personality mainly consists of those things we inherit genetically.  It dictates our personal preferences and choices. And, it drives our social interaction with others.

Character refers to how we choose to use our inheritance to make our way in the world.  Character is built over time. It comes from living, learning and making mistakes.  It shows up in the decisions we make and the risks we take.  Character measures and tests the strength of our will, our beliefs and our sense of justice.  And it is often a hard taskmaster.

It was W. Somerset Maugham who once said, “ When you choose your friends, don’t be short-changed by choosing personality over character”

I think the same could be said of leaders.  Sometimes, of course we don’t get to choose our leaders. And sometimes we don’t get the leaders we choose. However, we do get to choose the kind of leaders we are going to be. Will we ride on the coat tails of personality, going where the wind blows us?   Or, will we rely on the deep-seated beliefs that form our character to guide us, even if that road is harder… and even if it makes us unpopular?

To many people, the answer will seem obvious.  But, character can be difficult to discern.  It can go for a long time without being publically tested or uncovered and can often be eclipsed by the strength and easy attraction of a winning personality.

So how do we know?  How do we recognize when we are leading from the depths of our character and when we are not?  Under what circumstances would we be able to recognize strength of character in others?

Well, I can think of a few circumstances anyway that would provide some pretty good clues. Like:

In a crisis ~ the measure of any leader becomes most obvious when things go wrong.  It is then when wheat and chaff part company.

In Private ~ If, what leaders say in public differs from what they say in private, on the same subject, that is very telling. Those who change stories to fit the situation cast doubt on the veracity of any of them.

In the Face of Temptation ~ The power that leadership brings can be quite an aphrodisiac.  How leaders choose to use that power will say a lot about them.  The draw of self-interest is ever-present.   The test of character comes when we are faced with the temptation to indulge it.

There are, of course, many situations where character, or lack thereof, is revealed.  Suffice it to say that if we are looking for it, character, can generally be found in close proximity to courage and truthfulness.

So here’s the bottom line for me.  As a leader, while personality will get you in the door, character will ensure you stay there…or not.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?

*Originally published in September 2012

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Filed under Leadership, Leadership Development, Leadership Values, organizational culture, Self Knowledge

Managing Your Personal Impact…One Boss’s Story

This post was originally written in April 2010.  It is meant to illustrate the importance of self-awareness in leadership and the value of really listening to the feedback we receive, even when it contains information we’d rather not hear.

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Once upon a time, there was a Boss who was very sure of himself.  He was strong and competent.  He had built some admirable relationships with his peers and was well liked by his customers and the community at large.  But he was also puzzled.

He was puzzled because it seemed, to him anyway, that every time he walked into the same room as his employees, the place went from being lively with conversation to something that was subdued and controlled.  And, when he attended meetings with his team and a question came up, they all looked at him before even attempting to address it.  Similarly, when they talked about problems, the team members always looked his way before, or while, giving their opinions.

On the one hand the Boss kind of liked it.  It made him feel, well, in control and more than a little powerful.  But, on the other hand, he found it irritating and unproductive.  Surely these people were fully capable of drawing conclusions and deciding on courses of action without waiting for his blessing all the time.   Did he have to do everything? What was wrong with them?

Then one day, a Brave Soul approached him and said, “You know, you can be pretty intimidating sometimes”

The Boss looked at Brave Soul with eyes cold enough to freeze mercury.

He said, “What?  What do you mean?  All I did was walk into the room and sit down for heaven sakes!”

Slightly shaken but undaunted, Brave Soul went on.  “Well” she said, “It’s not just that you walked into the room but how you did it”

“Okay”, he said, “Now that really is ridiculous.  How could that possibly make me intimidating?  I’m interested in what people have to say.  I want some healthy discussion and debate about the issues we face.  I need them to be fully present when we are together so that we can work together and get things done.  Don’t they get that?”

Brave soul replied,  “I’m pretty sure that’s what they want too but the effect your body language and behaviour has on the team makes it difficult for them to participate”

Unconvinced but intrigued now, the Boss said, “Okay then, tell me more”

“Well, when you came into the room this morning, you didn’t acknowledge anyone.  You probably had a lot on your mind and so you were frowning too.  You walked straight to your chair at the head of the table and sat down without looking at anyone. You looked at your watch instead. You opened your book; peered over your glasses at the assembled group and said, ‘Okay, let’s get to it.  We have a lot to do and, I’ve got another meeting to go to after this’

“After that, I imagine it seemed to the team that the goal of the meeting changed from one that involved sharing ideas and making productive decisions to coming up with enough “right answers” to keep you from getting too impatient and ensuring that you got away in time to get to your next meeting”

“ But that’s not what I intended at all!” said the Boss. “I didn’t realize I could have such an effect on people. ”

Brave Soul smiled and said, “I don’t think any of us knows how we affect others unless we take some time to think about it and ask.  Sometimes how we are can get in the way of things, that’s all.  Just thought you should know.”

As Brave Soul walked away, the Boss began to make a mental note.  He had learned something today, about himself.  He didn’t like it but, if what Brave Soul had said were true, it would certainly explain the behaviour he saw and felt in others whenever he was within earshot of them.

So what could he do differently to become more aware of his impact on others without pretending to be someone other than himself?  Here’s what he came up with:

I will make an effort to become aware of the clues that people are sending me when we are in each other’s company.

It seems reasonable that if people can pick up and act on clues from my body language and behaviour, I can pick up clues about how I affect them by paying better attention when we are together

When in doubt about my impact on others, I will ask someone I trust to tell me the truth.

I get that I will not always be able to see myself as others see me.  So, I guess I will ask someone like Brave Soul to watch me from time to time and let me know how I’m doing.

I will be conscious of my moods and do my best to manage them in a way that does not negatively affect those around me.

I realize that when I am deep in thought, or worried about something it isn’t difficult to convey it, through my body language, to those around me. So, either I must explain myself or I must discipline myself to convey a more open posture.

Not bad for a start.  What would you add to the Boss’s list?

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Filed under building awareness, Building Relationships, Employee engagement, Leadership Development, Self Knowledge

Distraction…A Challenge to Good Leadership

Adlai Stevenson once said, “It’s hard to lead a cavalry charge if you think you look funny on a horse”.

I’m not sure what he meant by that specifically, but I’m thinking it has something to do with allowing distraction to get in the way of getting things done.

Of course, staying focused (most of the time anyway) is easier said than done.  After all, distraction, or the potential for it, is everywhere, rendering the leader’s lot a tricky proposition.

But, there are a few things you can do if you want to avoid spending time on things that really don’t matter that much.  And, there are usually some habits lurking about too that you might well do without.

For example:

Too much “me”.  Not enough “ you”

Here’s a new flash.  You’re human.  You are as vulnerable as anyone else to bouts of self-doubt and self-consciousness.   When this happens, your focus is going to be on yourself more often than on those you are there to lead.  You need to find ways to deal with that if you want to get out of your own way and keep the distraction factor down to a dull roar.  Usually it involves spending some concentrated time on some “know thyself” activities, things that will allow you to see yourself from a variety of perspectives.

How you choose to do it is usually a personal matter.  Self-assessment can take many forms and involve other people…or not.  However, here are a couple of things you might consider:

Take some Tests:  There are many good psychometric tests available that will allow you to get connected and acknowledge yourself for who you are, warts ‘n all.  Here’s a website that might help.

Hire a Coach: Leaders choose to do this for a variety of reasons. Working with a coach to gain clarity about yourself and particularly how others see you, are among them.

Just Ask people:  This can be a formal process or an informal one but the point is, we only see ourselves from the inside out.  If you want to know how you affect the environment and the people around you, and you trust the opinions of those you ask, sometimes it will be enough.

Too Much Time on the Ground

It is hard to stay focused when you are up to your neck in minutia.  And yet, some leaders allow themselves to get embroiled with the smallest of details. When this happens, it is easy to lose sight of the larger goals and become bogged down with side issues that have little or nothing to do with very much of anything.

So, what to do? Well, here’s a thought or two:

As a leader, you choose good people, train them, and give them the resources they need to do their jobs.  If you have done this well, then you must trust yourself, and them, enough to let go and let them get on with it.  Over- involvement in the nitty-gritty of the work takes you away from what you are really supposed to be doing.  Your job is to find the right forest.  Allow other people to take care of the trees.

The Seduction of the latest management Fad

It is easy to become distracted by new management approaches that “everyone is doing”.   You know, the kinds of processes that, when implemented, are purported to simplify your life, increase your bottom line and make everyone a hero.  For instance, was there ever a time when you found yourself sitting in a “quality circle” ? I don’t mean to pick on quality circles per se, but these things have a way of taking on lives of their own and before you know it, your goals are going one way and the people who are meant to achieve them are bound up in processes that get lost in bureaucracy, and complicated administration.

Management processes will help you get things done.  However, it is important to put them in perspective, to use them as tools to reach your goals rather than have them use you for their own sake.  Just because something is new and everyone is doing it, doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for you.

Explore, challenge and experiment, by all means but always with the achievement of your goals in mind. And, by the way, if you are a leader who has not been given a choice about what processes to follow, perhaps the best thing to do is to find the bits you can use to get to where you are going and leave the rest.

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The bottom line is, it is difficult to lead well while distracted.  And, it is still possible to look funny on a horse even when you’re focused.  The difference lies in the amount of time you’re willing to spend worrying about it.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?

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Filed under Leadership, Leadership Development, Management, Organizational Effectiveness, Self Knowledge

Leadership and Courage

Courage has many faces.  It doesn’t always show up complete with epaulets and a shiny sword yelling “Charge!!”  In fact, I would suggest it more often demands a much subtler approach.  Either way, courage is not something we can buy or fake.  It lives in the heart of our character.  And, it is something we hope to have enough of when we need it most.

Brave leaders go first and inspire others to find their own courage. They defy convention. They admit their mistakes, apologize and make amends when they are wrong.  Brave leaders explore unknown territory in service of something greater than themselves.  They deliver bad news with clarity, determination and compassion. And, they stay the course when the going gets tough

Brave leaders, too, frequently look in their personal, and organizational mirrors to find something in themselves or in the systems they create that works against their potential for achieving their goals. This calls for a special kind of courage, one that can feel less noble than the others.  But workplaces have little hope of thriving long if this work goes unattended or is swept under the rug in hopes that no one will notice.

Here’s a case in point. A few weeks ago, I met with a friend, a niche specialist in communication.   She shared this story with me.

On being invited to meet with the CEO of a company to discuss business opportunities, she entered the premises and almost immediately detected a certain tension in the air.  And, while people were impeccably polite to her, she noticed that throughout the office, no one was smiling.

The CEO, a clever and efficient woman, appeared to have all the hallmarks of a successful business leader.  At some point in the conversation, she asked my friend if she did other communications work because she had noticed that the e-mails being passed among her staff and out to customers had a tone that seemed terse and unwelcoming.  The CEO asked my friend if she could possibly fix that with some communications training.

Of course, my friend, a smart and intuitive woman herself, knew all too well where this conversation was headed.  Could she ‘fix’ the tone of the emails being sent from this office?  Yes, she could do that.   The bigger question…why people were writing snarky emails went unanswered.  It could be that this CEO had no idea why but, when pressed, she also was not willing to ‘go there’

This is not an unfamiliar story.  In fact, I would hazard to say that more companies than we’d like to think spend inordinate amounts of time and money addressing unpleasant symptoms if only to be able to say they are doing something to improve their employee, and by association, customer experience.

We know of course that underneath it all lurk many cans of worms and a few Pandora’s Boxes that need opening before anything can be truly resolved.  This is where that special kind of courage comes in.  It is the kind that asks us to face our imperfect selves; to find our humility and to lay ourselves open to closer examination.

When I think about courage in leadership, this quote comes to mind,

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear. ” ~ Ambrose Redmoon

Good leadership is about focusing on what’s really important among other things.  Sometimes that means having the courage to relentlessly pursue truth, even at the cost of personal pride, in service of building something everyone can be proud of.

That’s what I think anyway. What do you think?

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Filed under communication, Leadership, Leadership Development, NOWLeadership, Organizational Effectiveness, Self Knowledge

A Look at the Bones of Leadership… With The Iron Lady

Margaret Thatcher.  This name means different things to different people.  Some vilify her for her uncompromising approach. Others praise her for the same reason.

Whatever side of the fence you may fall with respect to Mrs Thatcher’s time as Prime Minister of Great Britain, there is one indisputable truth.  Margaret Thatcher was a leader.

If you gather that the subject of this post began with a trip to the movies, you would be right.  Meryl Streep’s riveting performance in The Iron Lady has indeed given rise to my curiosity and deeper thought about what lies in the bones of leadership

There are four things that come to mind

Abiding Purpose

Margaret Thatcher was driven by an abiding purpose to preserve the British way of life and restore its reputation on the world stage.  All else came in a distant second.  For many, how she went about fulfilling that purpose remains the source of great controversy.  Some people, who were negatively and personally affected by her decisions, may never forgive her for the change she brought to their lives.  Others will hold her up without hesitation as Britain’s savior at a time of great turmoil and indecision.  Regardless of the perspective, Mrs Thatcher seems to have always known what she was there to do and why it was important to do it.

Courage

The courage required of a world leader, like Margaret Thatcher is the kind of courage that compelled her to stand up in the face of great opposition and fight for what she believed.  Sometimes she fought alone.  But, she did it anyway because it was important and because as leader, it was her job to take risks and make decisions others shrank from.

Vulnerability

The bigger the job the more exposed is the leader.  When you make the kind of decisions that affect people’s lives, some will love you for it.  Some will not.   The business of leadership is not primarily about making friends. It is about challenging the status quo; helping others see what you see and changing something.  It invites criticism and sometimes, treachery.

Humility

Humility is not about being soft or weak nor is it about lacking confidence. Humility can sometimes roar. A truly humble leader will know exactly what she has to offer to the world, so much so that she will use all the precious time at her disposal to focus outwardly, on her goals and doing whatever it takes to accomplish them.  Margaret Thatcher once said, “ In my day, we would resolve to do something. Now, they resolve to be someone” 

If you are here, chances are you are not a World leader. So, you may ask; what does all of this have to do with me? Well, I think these four core leadership elements apply to everyone who wants to make a difference.  In a way, no matter if you run a small business, a large corporation, or  want to be the best parent you can be, it comes down to this:

  • The road to success is paved with intention.  Know your purpose and know, too, why it’s important
  • No matter what you do, the decisions you make will not please everyone.  Don’t waste your time trying.  Some will love you.  Some will not.  In the end, it rarely matters. In times of doubt, be guided by your purpose.
  • Be brave.  Make change.  Put strength behind your convictions.  Challenge complacency. Invite participation, discussion and involvement.
  • Know that rarely is anything about you.

The movie showed Baroness Thatcher, as she is today, not very well and suffering from dementia.  Some have criticized the decision to show this.  To me though, it illustrates only too clearly that power diminishes and when all is said and done, we are  left with only ourselves.

What do you think?

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Filed under Leadership, Leadership Development, Self Knowledge

Patience in Leadership ~ More Discipline than Virtue

The original of this post was published in 2010. I have revisited it and refreshed it because, well, sometimes I need a little reminding about some things.  The importance of cultivating patience is one of them.

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Patience.  It isn’t often included in the list of primary attributes we look for in leaders and yet to me, it is an underpinning of good leadership.

Ben Franklin once said, “He that can have patience, can have what he will”

Note that he didn’t say, “can have what he will”…NOW.

In a world where technology demands speed and the pressure to produce immediate results is all around us, disciplining ourselves to be patient is tough. Nonetheless, for leaders, it is a challenge worth pursuing.   Here’s why:

Patience allows us to suspend judgment long enough to make considered decisions

Often, when the pressure is on, we can make snap decisions that we later come to regret.   With a little patience, we can give ourselves the benefit of stopping to consider the impact of the decisions we make and whom we might be affecting by making them.  And besides, ill-considered decisions usually result in having to take corrective action anyway.

Patience allows for the development of late bloomers

Not everyone learns at the same rate.  Some, like the hare, are quick out of the gate and others, like the tortoise, are slower off the mark.  Each needs leadership to get to the finish line.  Patience requires us to steer the hare and reach back to encourage the tortoise.

If you are a leader with little patience for the development of those who take more time to learn and grow than you’d like, you could be missing something.  After all, Winston Churchill was a late bloomer

Patience can help us to be better Listeners

Most of us recognize the value of listening, both to get to understanding and in building solid relationships. To accomplish either of those things there must be patience enough to suspend our own judgments and focus on what is being said rather than on what we are about to say.

Patience can help us manage stress

Getting to the place where we accept that sometimes we just have to wait can diffuse a lot of negative feeling.  If we are frequently impatient with those around us, we are likely also frequently frustrated and possibly angry too.  Managing our own expectations long enough to put matters into perspective can relieve a lot of tension and ultimately make work a more pleasant experience.

So, if you buy all that, the next question is, how do we develop patience?

Well, not being the most patient of people, I’m still working on that one. There are however, a few ideas that come to mind and here they are:

Learn to value the questions as much as the answers

There is a lot of benefit in curiosity and exploration. Patiently peeling away the layers of a problem through questioning and listening does, I think, result in a richer and more rewarding outcome.

Know the “impatient” triggers and practice managing them

To develop our level of patience, I think we need to focus on what makes us snap and the triggers that usually take us there.  Once noticed, the rest is about practicing in an equally conscious way to improve our tolerance levels.

Keep the long-term goal in mind

It’s easy to get caught up in the pursuit of short-term results.  After all, they can be very gratifying.   The problem is, if we spend all of our time chasing quick results, we can easily get sidetracked and lose sight of our primary purpose.  Some opportunities are worth waiting for.  And, some goals just take longer to achieve.  It seems to me that if they are important, they deserve whatever time it takes to accomplish them.

In the final analysis, it’s probably safe to say we all suffer from bouts of impatience, some of us more chronically than others.  Impatience in leadership is particularly troublesome because it gets in the way of our ability to do the right things at the right times. What do you think?

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If you want more on the virtues of developing patience in leadership, I came across a great post you might want to check out entitled, “Leading with Patience – The Will to Wait” by Doug Moran.

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Filed under building awareness, Building Relationships, Leadership, Leadership Development, Self Knowledge

Taming the Inner Mule

The other night I was reminded how stubborn I can be at times. Yep. Really.

I was watching the evening news with my husband and he asked me to change the channel so he could watch the national, rather than the provincial, news.  I said, “This is the National News”.

He said, “No it isn’t. Lloyd Robertson is on the national news and I prefer listening to him over the other guy on channel three”

I said, “ Well, this is Lloyd Robertson’s program.

He said, “ No it isn’t but if you think so, you must be right”

Suffice it to say, after a  few more seconds of an “It is so! It is not!” kind of exchange, I discovered I was wrong, but not before I had dug in my heels and clung to my view of things until it sounded somewhat reminiscent of this:

Of course our “discussion” was not quite as strident as the one portrayed, but the point is, I believed I was right and clung to that belief as if it were a baby cub and I, a mother lion.  Luckily, this kind of intractability does not happen in our house too often, but when it does, everything seems to shut down until we discover where the error in thinking lies. And, until a correction, and an apology, is made.

Stubbornness is an insidious thing.  It can creep up on you and before you know it there is an enormous barrier between you and another person, or you and a bunch of other persons.  In leadership, it is also a destructive thing that closes the door on creativity and serves to frustrate and exclude people whose potential contribution is often ignored or discounted.

Let’s face it; we all like to be right.  If it were possible, we would all like to be right all of the time…but it’s not.

So, what to do?   Well, a good place to start is by looking in the mirror.  All of us are stubborn at some time or another.  It’s not that rare.  But, here’s the thing.  If we are leaders of people we cannot afford to luxuriate in the illusion that we are always right.  Getting married to our own ideas to the exclusion of others is an appalling waste of everyone’s time and talent.  And really,  failing to tame the inner mule comes with the high cost of lost opportunity and damaged relationships, which could be more than we are willing to pay.

So on those occasions when we notice ourselves digging in for a session of  “Yes, it is. No it’s not” Let’s do three things.  Stop…even if it is in mid-sentence.  Step Back…create some space in the dialogue long enough to take a breath. And Listen…focus on really understanding what is being said and pretend, for a moment that the other person actually might know what s/he is talking about.

By doing things as simple as that, our chances of discovering a plethora of useful and creative perspectives that will serve the collective purpose will be that much greater.

What do you think?  When was the last time you dug in your heels and started braying? What was the result? How can leaders keep their inner mules from getting in their way?

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Filed under Building Relationships, communication, Employee engagement, Self Knowledge, Uncategorized

Leaders and the Learning Organization

It is a testament to our naïveté about culture that we think that we can change it by simply declaring new values. Such declarations usually produce only cynicism. ~ Peter Senge

Peter Senge is one of my favourite Thought Leaders. You will probably know that he has been around for a while but his message, at least for me, is as relevant to our current time as it was when he first introduced his book, The Fifth Discipline, about twenty years ago.

So far, in my experience anyway, we have not been great students of his philosophies…or we have been great students but just, well, crappy at the execution part, proof perhaps that naïveté also lives in our belief that any of this stuff is easy.

There was a time when everyone was jumping onto The Learning Organization bandwagon.  This usually happened when times were good, when organizations felt a little more ebullient about their prospects and generous toward their employees.  And then when things started to look a little gloomy, heads turned back to the way things were.  Budgets were cut and the Learning part of the organization dried up while the focus snapped back in line with the notion that wisdom and decisions could only come from the few and learning for the many was a luxury no one could afford.

I’m thinking though that it is in the difficult times that leaders need to embrace the concepts of the Learning Organization and to build a culture of shared leadership.

I must confess that not being particularly academic in my own learning process, I found The Fifth Discipline a little dry. Having said that, I also think the five main components of a Learning Organization continue to make great sense and are actionable, to greater or lesser degrees, by everyone regardless of whether we lead in large organizations, small ones, or are simply striving to lead a meaningful life.

Each of the Learning Organization components, personal mastery, mental models, team learning, shared vision and systems thinking allow for the opportunity to create lives and organizations that are resilient, flexible, inclusive and dynamic. The question often is though, how do we to start?

Here are some of my thoughts about that:

Personal Mastery: is, for me, the place where everything really begins. Taking the time to study and understand our reality, and our purpose, serves not only ourselves but also everyone with whom we come in contact.

Practically speaking, there are a lot of instruments available on the Internet that will help us confirm what we might already inherently know about ourselves or uncover some things we didn’t know. However we do it, the key to successful personal mastery, I think, is to trust in the information we receive; to be curious and ask questions either formally or informally; to observe the impact we have on others when we interact with them; and to act on any new knowledge we get about ourselves.

Mental Models: are, simply put, about assumptions and biases in our thinking. There is a proverb that says, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”.

This speaks to the dangers of clinging to, and operating from, narrow perspectives.   I believe the goal for leaders in this century is to widen the lens of their thinking by challenging not only their own assumptions but also the beliefs and biases on which their organizations operate.  I hazard to say that if we were each to bring heightened awareness to our assumptions, our ability to be receptive to change would be that much greater.

Team Learning: There are many books written on the topic of teams, and an amazing array of teams within organizations too. It can get pretty complex.  But suffice it to say that in an age where shared leadership is, or will become, critical, the need to understand the dynamics and functional operation of teams is pretty great.  Here, I think it starts with gaining an understanding of what a truly successful and highly functional team looks like.  In my observation, it always seems to come down to how team members communicate with each other. How they manage conflict. And, how they examine their successes and more particularly, their failures.  Here’s more about team learning in case you want it.

Shared Vision: I expect this one is pretty familiar to most people.  And yet its usefulness is so often diminished because the vision is developed “at the top” of the organization and seldom shared by those who are expected to work toward its achievement.  To me, a Shared Vision is just that…shared.  It may start with one person but if it is going to come alive and guide the company’s activities, it must be embraced and shared by all.  It doesn’t have to be a sweeping statement with big words either. For example, Zappos, the online department store’s vision is Delivering Happiness.  It is clear, simple and provides great direction to anyone who works there.   To me, the message is, if what you do delivers happiness, it’s probably the right thing.

Systems Thinking: When most people talk about Senge’s model of a Learning Organization, they usually start with Systems Thinking.  I keep it to the end because really this is about paying attention to the connections between and among a variety of elements that make up the whole.  In organizations, we have this tendency to create silos of operation where people make decisions based only on their own needs.  When this happens, others are affected, (often negatively) and that creates unnecessary and unproductive tension within the organization.

So, I suppose a place to start with respect to systems thinking is to ask, Who will be affected by what we are about to do? How do we involve them? Why should we care?

To me, it’s kind of like the plumbing in an old apartment complex.  If there is a breakdown in one person’s apartment, it can affect the water supply to all of the others.  That might be a bit simplistic but I think you get what I mean.

Some people may think the concepts put forth in The Fifth Discipline are old too.  But, I think that they are timeless.  If more organizations were to embrace and enact these philosophies, they would find ways to remain pliable and resilient in even the most treacherous of time.

What do you think?

 

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Filed under Change Management, Leading Change, Learning, Self Knowledge

Asking for Help

I have a confession to make.  I’m not very good at asking for help.  There are probably a lot of reasons for it, none of which are interesting enough to dissect here. There was a time, though, when I  thought it didn’t matter…that in fact, asking for help was a sign of weakness.  And, it meant obligation.  Besides, there was always that, um, rejection factor.  You know the one.

Lately though, I am learning that the weakness does not lie in the asking.  It lies in the not asking.

In leadership this is equally true.

In my observation, Leaders who know how to ask for help; use the help that is offered; and appreciate the value of it, show strength, both of purpose and character.

So, if you are like me and want to get better at it, where might we start?  Well, here’s what I’ve been telling myself lately:

Before asking for help, know what you need help with

In my experience there is never a shortage of people willing to help.  In fact, helping is, I think, something that comes quite naturally to most human beings. Having said that, people who are willing to help should not be mistaken for mind readers.  Some may be uber intuitive and able to discern what is needed without much discussion. But, most people will need some guidance and direction.  The less specific you are in explaining your needs, the greater the possibility they will not be met.

Note to self:  Be more planful.  Know what you want.  Learn to express it clearly.

When you know what you need help with, ask the right people

It is one thing to know what to ask for.  It is entirely another to know who to ask.  This requires you to understand and appreciate the skills and knowledge that others have to offer.  And it means spending time with people and coming to understand what they are good at.  When you know what they’re good at, you will generally know too, where their interests lie; what they like to do; and what they would be happy to help you with.

Note to self:  Ask your favourite computer geek to help you understand more about the Internet.  Do not ask him to help you fix your leaky faucet.  No doubt, he has one of his own at his house.

Accept what is offered with grace

Sometimes the help that is needed is advice, or another perspective on something you have been struggling with.  When what you really want is validation and what you need, and get, is something different, it’s tempting to rationalize it away.  The thing is, people who offer another perspective on a particular situation, even if it doesn’t fit with your view of the world, are giving you an opportunity to think and do something different to help yourself.  And that is an offering not to be discounted.

Note to self: Say “Thank you” not “Sorry I asked” no matter what someone might tell you.  A risk was taken to offer it.  Gratitude trumps disgruntlement.

So, what are your thoughts? What benefits have you experienced from simply asking for help?  What gets in your way?  What is the value to you of getting better at asking for help?

And just for fun, here are the Beatles, who ironically, don’t  look as if they need any help at all.  Enjoy.

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Filed under Building Relationships, communication, Employee engagement, Learning, Self Knowledge

The Practical Gift of Humility

A few weeks ago Mary Jo Asmus published a blog post entitled Giving Away Your Gifts.  It served as a reminder, to me at least, that non-tangible assets, when shared, are indeed gifts to those who receive them.

Mary Jo outlined a number of important gifts that leaders can give and then she asked us to think about other qualities that leaders might bring and apply at work.

I offered the gift of humility.

Mary Jo said it was a great gift but asked, “How would you give humility to others?”

Well, that started me thinking.  How indeed?  After all, humility is one of those things that is constantly in competition with the ego.  And, it’s not a quality that comes naturally or easily to human beings either.  In fact, we can’t actually give humility to another person.  Even the idea sounds a bit, well, arrogant doesn’t it?

I suppose I could go off on some esoteric journey about the righteousness of humility (a journey on which I would no doubt find myself alone), but right now, I’m more interested in looking at some of its more practical aspects.

Here are some that come to mind.  Leaders give the gift of humility every time they:

  • Praise others and give credit for work well done, without expectation of sharing in the tangible recognition that may come from it.
  • Give the challenge of new and exciting assignments to those who they feel will get the best result and grow from the experience, even if doing the work themselves would have earned them major bragging rights.
  • Step behind the rest of their team when accolades are being given for great results.
  • Look in the mirror first, when things go wrong.
  • Make the work and the collective effort of the team more important than their own status or image.
  • Express more pride in their teams, the work and their values than in themselves.

Okay, all this sounds tough.  And it is.  It may appear Paradoxical, but I think that to be able to carry off true leadership with humility, we need a healthy sense of self-esteem, because then we can more easily find contentment and pride in allowing others to shine brighter, or more often, than we do.   It is that, that makes it a gift.

Many of you will have heard of Jim Collins. He advocates the combination of humility and will as being present in the most accomplished and effective leaders.

He refers to it as “The Five”, meaning level five leadership and explains it here:

Do we have to be captains of industry to give the gift of humility?  The simple answer is no.  Does it mean that we have to turn into someone like Charles Dickens’ Uriah Heep to be humble? Certainly not.

But, it does take practice and sincerity. I’m still working on it. You?

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Filed under Building Relationships, Employee engagement, Leading Teams, Self Knowledge, Uncategorized